[I admit that I missed it because I had assumed it was just window dressing, a set-up, designed by the money and power people. At best, I believed that the crowds would mean it would be an exercise in frustration, and I hate being part of the forced passivity of political audiences. Wrong here. Pete Hamill shows us how wrong.]
...5,000 men and women, including people from the suburbs, New Jersey and Connecticut, were broken down into groups of 10, seated at tables equipped with a computer.
Their opinions - essentially votes - would be fed all day to a central computer base. Called to assembly by the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, there were representatives among them of every race, religion or ethnic group.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they were presented with basic issues about the rebuilding of those 16 gutted acres in lower Manhattan. At each table, they debated in a sober, thoughtful, civil way. They voted, offered comments, and moved on to the next item on the agenda.
We have a word for what they were doing.
The word is democracy.
And because the process was an exercise in democracy, not demagoguery, no bellowing idiots grabbed microphones to perform for the TV cameras.
All around the vast room, you heard citizens saying politely to others, "What do you think?" And then listening - actually listening - to the replies. In this room, "I" had given way to "we." Yes, the assembly was boring to look at, too serious, too grave, too well-mannered for standard TV presentation. And it was absolutely thrilling.
At this forum, no uniformed killers in sunglasses stood along the perimeter of the room, ordering votes with a nod of the head. No religious frauds directed votes as if they were demanded by God, or justified by some vague line in an ancient book. There were no party votes, or even party lines. These were Americans having their say about the future.
Later, wandering into the hot afternoon, this visitor was exhilarated. Our modern Committees of Correspondence were sending their messages. Only fools or knaves would ignore them.